Customs-Iloilo says rice shipments are aboveboard

The Bureau of Customs-Port of Iloilo denied any irregularity in the shipment of 38,400 metric tons (MT) of rice that were unloaded at the port recently. (F.A. Angelo)

By Jennifer P. Rendon and Joseph B.A. Marzan

True, shipments of around 38,400 metric tons (MT) of rice were unloaded at the Port of Iloilo.

But these are far from being smuggled, according to the Bureau of Customs-Port of Iloilo.

Ciriaco Ugay, Bureau of Customs-Port of Iloilo district collector, made the statement following a report that smuggled rice were discharged at the Port of Iloilo and released by BOC personnel.

In a telephone interview, Ugay, who was in Luzon for some undisclosed family matters, said the importation was aboveboard.

In a press statement, the BOC-Collection District VI said it vehemently denies the “alleged rice smuggling activities at the Port of Iloilo, specifically at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex.”

The agency thumbed down “these unfounded allegations which intend to malign the good image of the BOC- Port of Iloilo considering that no history of rice smuggling has been recorded at this Port.”

It added that “the alleged smuggled rice shipments on board MV Hai Ha 58, MV HOA BINH 54, and MV Hai Dang 168 were covered with clearances and permits issued by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry in compliance with Republic Act No. 11203 or An Act Liberalizing the Importation, Exportation and Trading of Rice, Lifting for the Purpose the Quantitative Import Restriction on Rice, and For Other Purposes.”

It cited that the importation of agricultural products at the BOC-Port of Iloilo, specifically rice, has a big impact on the lawful revenue collection of the Port.

From January to July 2022, a total of 52,000 metric tons (MT) of rice were imported at the BOC-Port of Iloilo which generated ₱901,875,170.20, which is 32% of the Port’s total revenue for the said period.

Further, “the imported rice on board the aforementioned vessels have a total computed Customs duties, taxes, and other charges amounting to ₱83,322,586.68 which greatly contributes to the August 2022 revenue collection of this Port.”

As to Ron MV Royal 18 which arrived at the Port of Iloilo last August 14, 2022, the BOC said that the Goods Declaration of the rice shipment loaded on board the vessel “has been lodged in the Custom’s Electronic 2 Mobile or e2m System while the vessel is currently at the anchorage area of this Port waiting for berthing space.”

“Lahat po ng mga dumadating na shipment, kahit na ano pang shipment yan, lahat-lahat po yan ay subject for regulation and examination ng mga regulating agonies,” Ugay said.

He also cited that BOC-Iloilo has exceeded its annual target as early as the middle of August.

“With the combined efforts of the BOC-Port of Iloilo personnel and the untiring support of its stakeholders, in adherence to all existing laws and regulations, the Collection District VI already exceeded its annual collection target for 2022 as of August 16. Initial data shows that the Port collected a total revenue of Php3,214,439,058.34, surpassing the 2022 collection target of Php3,187,480,000 by Php26,959,058.34 or 0.85%,” the statement added.

The agency assured to implement its mandates continuously and effectively for the welfare of the people of Western Visayas.

Meanwhile, when asked who could have been behind the said “demolition job,” Ugay said he couldn’t think of anyone.

“As of now, I don’t have the idea kung kaninong gimmick basta kami po focus lang sa trabaho namon na nasira po nila ang good image ng Port of Iloilo,” he said.

A Bureau of Customs official said that the incident will still be investigated by the head office.

The BOC held a press conference at their offices on Friday to substantiate the press release, where they expressed surprise over the report when it came out.

Acting Deputy Collector for Operations Noli Santua Jr. said that the Port of Iloilo’s customs office was one of the nation’s strictest, not having had any smuggling cases in the past.

“We were all surprised by that report, because ever since here at the Port of Iloilo there have been no cases of smuggling, and on our part, we would never permit such activities here in our port. Those statements are very general but really destructive to the industry and the bureau,” Santua said.

Santua also said that they have referred the report to BOC Commissioner Yogi Ruiz, and they have also furnished documents to the regional office of the National Bureau of Investigation after the latter’s request